Drawing the figure - the proportions of the human form.
Figure Proportions
A brief overview of the proportions of the human figure:

The red lines in the drawing below indicate "heads." They show the height of the head of this particular model. Most people's figures follow simple rules when it comes to proportions—and using the height of the head is a really good way of seeing how everything lines up.


Male figure - proportions

I quickly put the "head lines" (sorry for the pun) over one of my sketches. This drawing shows that the model was approx. 7 3/4 "heads" high. Which is pretty normal. However, most artists consider 8 head lengths to be "ideal." I do too. It was just that this particular model was a little stockier. I don't consider the loss of 1/4 of a head length (off of the "ideal") to be too unacceptable in this case. However, if the model were drawn any shorter, the drawing would probably not look too good.

In reality, most people are about 7 1/2 head lengths, or even 6 1/2 head lengths. But this just doesn't look "right" when drawn on paper. So, it is acceptable (and strongly encouraged) to heighten the figure a bit. 8 head lengths is the recommended standard for figure drawings (or even 8 1/2 heads, if the person is very tall and "heroic").

Even if your model really is 6 1/2 heads high, it is very likely that your drawing will not look right if you stick with the 6 1/2 head proportions in your drawing. Everyone will tell you that you made the head too big. Just draw the figure 8 heads high (or 7 1/2 is okay). Everyone will tell you that it looks "just right," even though you'll know that it isn't, strictly speaking, accurate for the model.

The "heads" should align on most figure drawings this way:

  1. First head length: head!
  2. Second head length: chest line at nipples.
  3. Third head length: waistline, at bellybutton.
  4. Forth head length: groin area.
  5. Fifth head length: a bit above the knee.
  6. Sixth head length: just below knee.
  7. Seventh head length: above ankle (or mid-calf, if the person is 8 heads).
  8. Seven & 3/4 (or eighth) head length: at bottom of feet.

Other measurements that should be noted:

  • When the arms are at the side, the wrist bone aligns with the groin area.
  • The elbow aligns with the waistline—around or above the bellybutton.
  • Shoulder width, side-to-side is about 2 to 2 1/3 heads wide.

One of the MOST common newbie mistakes is to make the head too big for the body. Especially common is to make the legs too short. This is unbelievably common. It is almost inevitable that newbie artists do this. I remember my first life drawings—horrid, horrid, horrid! And I was considered to be able to draw pretty well at the time. It was a grave blow to my ego, to see how poorly I had drawn the figure's proportions! But it happens all the time, and we just don't seem to notice it when we are doing it.

So, I beseech everyone—measure and check these proportions! Do it before you put any dark lines down on the drawing, so that any errors will be easier to erase. Measure everything! You may be horrified to find that you've made your model dumpy and short-limbed. Don't feel bad if you do this. We all have done it. So, measure, measure, measure. You'll soon get out of the habit of making the figure too short, or the head too big.

Also, if you can't remember the proper arm lengths, just check your own body! For instance, if you ever forget the placement of the elbows, you only have to stand with your arms to your side to find out!

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